How many times have you attempted to bake a cake and it has turned out to be a very sad affair. After all the time and effort you have put into your creation, it has turned out a gooey mess or as hard as bricks. It is pretty sad after all the anticipation. And even more so if there are hungry mouths to feed with their cups of tea in hand, waiting for a slice of cake. Well those days are about to change.
Follow these simple rules and you will be knocking out cakes as good as they come. And the beauty of it is, once you have sussed out how the basics work, there will be no stopping you.
- Before you start make sure you have all the right equipment. A mixer is great. A hand blender can be just as good if you haven’t got a mixer. But mixing by hand is just as effective and more satisfying. You have more control over the stages of making the cake and probably make less mess to start with if you are new to cake making. For most cakes you will need a good oven.
Depending on the age of your cooker, it will be worth investing in an oven thermometer. This simple little exercise will let you know the actual temperature of your oven. Also where the hotspots are in your oven so you can avoid burning your creations.
Test it by setting your oven to 100C for ten minutes and then place your thermometer inside for a minute. When you check the temperature it should read 100C. Make a note of the temperature. Now try the thermometer on the next shelf and do the same test. Depending on the size of your oven you can check the top, bottom, left and right sides of your oven. This way you can map the hot spots.
Now try the same test at 150C and 200C. It is a worthwhile test to find out what is going to happen once you put your cake batters into the oven.
If you have a fan-assisted oven, do the same test with the fan on. Make a note of your findings. It saves you any guesswork when you are baking. It is also an idea to test at your lowest possible temperature as well, especially if you are planning to make desserts like meringues or macaroons. You’ll only have to do this test about once a year.
Now you know how your oven is going to behave you need to make sure you have the right equipment? If you don’t have a mixer, you will need a good-sized mixing bowl. It is actually a good idea to have one regardless. They always come in handy. You will need one; two to three times bigger than the size of your cake mix. So for a cake mix that weighs in at 1kg, you will need a 2 to 3-liter mixing bowl. I have a 5lt bowl. It means I can really give my cake mix a good beating without it flying all over the kitchen. The less mess the better. Plus if you have ingredients going everywhere, you will have an unbalanced mix.
You will also need:
A wooden spoon
A thick whisk
A thin whisk
A rubber spatula – I find these really essential little tools.
Scales, preferably electric
And that is basically all you need to make a cake. Depending on what you are baking you may need something like a piping bag, rolling pin or cutters. There are many other knick-knacks to make life easy but let’s just stick to the basics for now.
- 2. Read the recipe and make sure you have the right equipment and all your ingredients before you start. Read the recipe again and make sure you follow the steps precisely. Don’t cut corners or substitute or reduce the ingredients unless you know exactly what you are doing. It is always best to stick to the instructions for the first couple of times before you start tweaking recipes. If it does not go into the oven right, it won’t come out right. I can still hear my chef at Catering College telling us that 40 years later
- 3. Work in a tidy manner. There is a lot of good that comes from a tidy work area. You can see where you are up to. Before you start, make sure to clear away anything you are not using. Lay out all your ingredients and equipment so they are to hand. Don’t be working in a mess. It just causes confusion and at worst can be unhygienic and potentially dangerous to you or your family. Make sure you clean your surfaces thoroughly before you start. Cake making needs a lot of space, as you will see once you lay everything out. Clear up your mess after each stage and put the rest of the ingredients you have finished with away. Make sure you take your butter out of the fridge to soften so it is easier to beat. You can melt it in the microwave but only do it in ten second increments. You do not want to end up with melted butter.
- 4. I try to stick to either metric or imperial measurements. Mixing pounds, grams and “cups“ is asking for trouble. I have seen so many different sized cup measurements in my time it’s not funny. Especially a pain when you have to scale up a recipe, say for forty people. The small discrepancy becomes a big mistake.
- 5. Make sure your oven is on and set to the right temperature at least ten minutes before hand. Some baking like bread or fruitcakes benefits from a tray of water in the oven. This creates steam and helps to conduct the heat around the oven.
- 6. Make sure that your Baking Tins or Sheets are lined with parchment and/or oiled before you start making your cake mix. You need to have them ready as in a hot kitchen with a hot oven on the cake mix can be heat affected and loose some of its lift. The raising agent tends to start working even at low temperatures once it is moist
- 7. Do not open the door of the oven before you need to. Every time you open the door the temperature drops considerably and you then have to wait a bit longer for the oven to get up to temperature again. This is especially important with sponges where they can “drop” and you can lose the nice and light lift that they had.
- 8. Make sure you have set an alarm as soon as you place your cake in the oven. The timing should be precise and not a guess. Baking is like chemistry. It is a science, just like most cooking is. The ingredients, heat and timing are a precise thing. It is not like doing a roast dinner, in fact even that needs to have precise timing. Timing is essential. Once you take the cake out of the oven, you can test it with a wooden skewer. Insert it into the cake and give it a half twist. Check to see if there is any wet cake mix on it. Or you can use a temperature probe. I tend to use a small knife held in the middle of the cake for a couple of seconds, then applied to the back of the hand. It should have no cake mix on it and if it burns you, it is done. Let it cool in the tin or on the tray for five or ten minutes before turning it out and placing it on a cooling rack.
- 9. Let the cake cool completely before attempting to slice it. When still warm it may crumble. It will also make the cake drier as the moisture captured in the cake is allowed to escape. It is best to let it cool naturally and not in the fridge. Once cool, store in an airtight container.
- 10. If you are making a fruit cake it is a good trick to steep the fruit in some light and warm sugar syrup to plump them up first. Pour the syrup onto the fruit while it is still warm and leave it to cool. The fruit will be plumper once they have cooled. Drain off any excess syrup. The dry fruit can draw moisture from the cake, making it dry. You can also add some alcohol to the syrup such as Rum or Brandy. To prevent the fruit from sinking, you can also lightly dust them in some flour. It helps the fruit stay evenly distributed through the cake. Especially useful in Madeira Cakes.
See my other Blog on baking ‘Ten More Useful Baking Tips’ for more tips with your cake making
Please comment if you have enjoyed or have any of your own tips to add to this blog.
Feel free to contact me if you would like any of the recipes in the Blog or if you need any cooking tips
Your feedback would be appreciated by one and all.
This is a nice sponge recipe to practice on. Once you have baked it a few times how about trying a variation of it.
Coffee and Walnut with a Banana Buttercream is one of my go tos. Chocolate is very popular.
200 g Castor Sugar
200 g Plain Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
- Cream the butter and sugar
- Gradually add the beaten eggs
- Lightly mix in the flour and baking-powder
- Divide into two greased sponge tins.
- Bake in a hot oven (230C -250C) for appx 20 to 25 min.
- Turn out on to a wire cooling rack.
- Spread one half with jam. Place the other half on top.
- Dust with icing sugar.
This Banana Bread is a recipe that I developed for my twelve-year-old daughter
INSERT MARLEY BANANA BREAD RECIPE & Pics
MARLEY’S BANANA & WALNUT BREAD
200 g Brown Sugar
150 g Butter
260 g Self-Raising Flour
3 # Soft Bananas
½ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 drops Vanilla essence
50g Walnut halves
– Turn on the oven and set to 180C
– Get all your Ingredients and Equipment ready.
– On the slowest speed mix the butter and sugar.
– When mixed, turn up to a medium speed and whip.
– When the mix is white, turn down the speed to low
– Crack eggs into bowl. Add to the mixer one at a time
– Add Peeled Bananas
– When all the eggs and Bananas are mixed in, turn the mixer off.
– Add the S.R Flour to the mixer with the Salt, Cinnamon and Baking Powder and turn on to a low speed
– When mixed in, and the walnuts
– Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of bowl.
– Spray or brush paper cup cake liners with oil gently
– Scrape mix into a greased and lined loaf tin
– Spoon or pipe mix into liners. Fill to two-thirds full
– Bake in hot oven at 180C for 40 to 50 minutes
– Test with a wooden or bamboo skewer
– Cool on a wire rack